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This offbeat, often pitch-black show details three individuals' experiments with the world of plants.

Chet Mazur in Botanica
(© Paula Court)
The title of Jim Findlay and Jeff Jackson's offbeat new show, Botanica, now at 3LD, instantly brings to mind the world of plants, a notion that is reinforced upon receiving a plant leaf for a ticket at the box office and then proceeding into the theater through the greenhouse of the set to choose a seat.

A quick dictionary search, however, reveals a slightly more sinister definition. Specifically, the word refers to "a shop that sells herbs, charms, and other religious or spiritual items, especially those associated with Santeria." While the play never mentions Santeria per se, there is a ritualistic approach the scientists (played by Ilan Bachrach and Liz Sargent) take in the increasingly bizarre experiments they perform on a variety of plants and on the plants' caretaker (Chet Mazur).

Early on, Bachrach taunts a plant subject by telling it, "you will become parched and your leaves will begin to fall off. We will cut off one of your leaves." Sargent then interrupts him impatiently, pleading, "can't you try being more aggressive, please?" This back and forth escalates until Bachrach grabs a bullhorn and screams, "I'm going to piss in your soil" at the defenseless plant.

This exchange sets the mood for the kind of pitch-black and skewed humor that is to come. It's clear these scientists and the caretaker, who also acts as the narrator, have been isolated with the plants for a longtime. They sleep in "pods" on the facility and only have contact with each other, and ironically, while the experiments are supposed to test plant consciousness, they end up diminishing their own awareness of self.

Peter Ksander's expansive set sharply contrasts the lush beauty of the plants stage left with the stark and sterile lab stage right and living quarters upstage. It's in this last place that the play's most entertaining scene takes place. After a series of grueling experiments, Bachrach and Sargent sit down for a meal of salad and devour those leafy vegetables with cannibalistic glee.

It's a simple moment but makes us question, if only for a second, the life values we assign to the wide range of specimens. Unfortunately, though, we never get a full enough sense of these characters, and too often sound effects and flashing lights take the place of real catharsis. However, Findlay and Jackson state in the script that it's both a work-in-progress as well as a close collaboration with the actors and designers. With that in mind, Botanica can be seen as the first stage of a curious experiment.